Disclaimers: Uhm. No.. I don't think so. This is a work of fiction, born of my psychotic imagination. And all the characters, (along with their neuroses and psychoses), belong to Bertha (my faithful Muse) and myself. You may borrow them for your own personal use, but make sure they shower before returning them to me. 

Sex/Violence: Yeah, this one shall have sex at some point or another, so get the vibrators ready. And it will be that fun lesbian sex we're all so fond of, so if you're not 18... OFF WITH YOUR HEAD! Well no... you know the drill.  Violence? No.. none of that. I bring you loooove...

Dedication: To Cindy, for listening to me talk ENDLESSLY about this story and its characters, and for reading, and re-reading, and supporting my madness through all its twists and turns. Thank you for teaching me about love... I was clueless before you came along...and I still have much to learn. I dedicate this also to all my fellow hopeless romantics.. we're a dying breed, I know... 

Feedback: Send comments, questions, and bribary to 

Chapter 17


The smell of chicken and garlic reached my senses before I even stepped foot inside Valerie's apartment. I had no idea what she was cooking but it smelled delicious.


Valerie opened the door and stood before me wearing an apron which read 'Kneel Before the Cook' and a matching chef's hat.


Giggling, I planted a kiss on her cheek. "You're cute," I informed her and entered the apartment.


"Thank you," she answered, shutting the door after me. She turned to address me but by then I was already in the kitchen attempting to identify the meal in progress. I had no luck.


"What are you making?" I asked her, leaning over the stove to take a peek at  the contents in one of the pots. "I see noodles. I see green stuff. What is this?"


Valerie was beside me a moment later. "The green stuff is spinach. And we," she paused to hand me a wooden spoon and place the chef's hat on my head, "are making Chicken Penne."


I pushed the hat up a little to keep the rim from covering my eyes. "We?" I looked at the spoon in my hand. "Do I look like Emil to you?"


She looked confused. "Who?"


"You know, that guy on the Food Network. He likes to kick things up a notch by adding alcohol to everything and saying 'bam' a lot." I demonstrated with a hand gesture.


"You mean Emeril." She smiled. "I didn't take you for the Food Network watching type."


Shrugging, I responded, "Well I love food. I just prefer not to cook it myself. Watching other people make it, however, is quite exciting."  I pointed to the wooden spoon in my right hand with my left. "What do you want me to do with this, Fat Lady Number One?"


Valerie went to answer then paused, frowning. "Are you calling me fat?"


I held up the handle of the spoon next to her and looked back and forth between them as though trying to compare. "Yes. Obese. Now, hurry up and give me instructions, I'm starving."


Valerie stuck a piece of chicken in my mouth. "Work on that." Then she motioned to the pot of noodles. "Stir."


I saluted while chewing. "Mm, good chicken." Then I proceeded to stir. I fell quiet as I did so, suddenly remembering a couple of things that had been bothering me. Well .. not bothering me exactly, but definitely nagging at me. Well one was nagging at me, the other I was just curious about. I had no idea how to bring it up, so I just focused on the stirring.


"You know, you're allowed to talk and stir at the same time," Valerie informed me.


I half-turned to look at her. She was sitting at the kitchen table, reading a magazine. I furrowed my eyebrows. "Ahem. What are you doing?"


"Reading the latest lesbian rumors from Hollywood," she responded, not bothering to look up from the issue of Curve.


"And this helps to expedite dinner how exactly?"


She glanced up this time, and said, "I'm waiting for the noodles."


Turning back to the task at hand, I told her, "They look pretty done to me." I pulled one out by balancing it on the wooden spoon and dropped it on the table next to Valerie. "Try it."


She put the magazine down, and made a grab for the noodle. Chewing, she nodded. "Almost."


I resumed my stirring. At the very least, this was good exercise for my arm. Who needed a Bow Flex machine when you had simmering noodles? "I really don't see why I need to keep stirring these things. I'm sure they'd manage along fine without my help."


"Hey, what you're doing right there is an integral part of my recipe. Don't sell yourself short."


"Are you calling me short?" I turned around, pointing the wooden spoon menacingly in her direction and narrowing my eyes in a feral look.




"Hmph," I responded, and turned my back to her once more. At least the noodles appreciated me. Of course they'd probably get mad at me for eating them after we'd built such a strong bond … Or maybe they wouldn't mind at all, seeing as they were pasta noodles and therefore incapable of such motion. Behind me, I heard the rustling of magazine pages. "What time do you get off work tomorrow?" I asked her without turning.




"Would you like to go to dinner with Jessica and Mathew?" I wasn't entirely sure how Valerie would take to being around Jessica, but I figured it didn't hurt to ask. "She invited you," I added, not sure if that made any difference one way or the other.


"Are you going to be there?"


I smiled to myself. "Yes I am."


"Then sure," she answered, suddenly standing at my side. She stole back the chef's hat and the wooden spoon. "Thank you for your help, madam."


I bowed and took a seat at the table, happy that my job had been completed without any major catastrophes. I wasn't a klutz—not exactly—but kitchens and I didn't really mix, unless of course spasghetti was involved. Then I was the Iron Chef. Grabbing the magazine from the spot Valerie had left it, I busied myself by reading up on queer culture.


A few minutes later, a plate was placed before me and I looked up to see Valerie smiling down at me. "Your dinner, madam," she announced. She put down silverware on a napkin, and motioned to the fridge. "Grab a Pepsi if you want."


"This looks great," I told her, reaching over to open the fridge door. I leaned over and grabbed a couple of cans of Pepsi without getting up (laziness knows no bounds). I placed the second can in front of Valerie's place setting and waited for her to sit down.


She joined me at the table a moment later. The apron and chef hat were gone and I saw that she was wearing a black and blue soccer jersey with the number twenty-three printed across the back below the name "Skye". Light blue jeans I'd never seen on her before and her usual boots completed the outfit. I was pretty sure she was one of those people who could make even the most hideous of outfits look sexy.


"You know, you have yet to take me to McDonald's," she reminded me, with a grin.


I nodded, grabbing the fork. "We'll make that our next date." Which one was it now? Six  or seven … I'd finally lost count.


"Aren't we having dinner with Jessica tomorrow."


I nodded. "Alright, then the next one after that." I took the first bite and I decided at that moment that I was going to marry this girl. I restrained myself from making those moaning noises from What About Bob? though it's exactly what I felt like doing. "I must say, you are one skillful woman."


Valerie grinned. "Thank you kindly. Do I pass?"


"You more than pass. Your cooking patch is in the mail." We fell silent for a while as we both enjoyed our meals in companionable silence. Eventually, I dared to break the silence. "Can I ask you something?"


Valerie looked up from her plate and stared at me expectantly. "Sure."


I chewed on my lip wondering why I didn't just let it go. "Well, I'm probably going to sound like a really big jerk for asking this, but it's sort of been bothering me."


If I didn't have her full attention before, I clearly had it now. "Go ahead."


"Well, you said your mom left you when you were two," I started, feeling really stupid for bringing this up but knowing it was a bit too late for backtracking, "yet you told me your mom was the only person you knew who liked popcorn without butter."


Valerie stared blankly at me for a moment. "This is what's been bothering you?"


I'm sure I blushed.


She smiled. "Remind me never to lie to you,  since you're obviously a stickler for details."


I arched a brow. "Did you lie to me?"


"No! I just didn't tell you the entire story." She shrugged. "The topic of my mother isn't one of my favorites so I tend to be vague on the subject."


I nodded, curious to know the rest of the story, yet afraid to push her any further. I didn't want to force her to tell me something she didn't want to talk about. Especially since it was obvious that the matter caused her pain.


She was quiet for a few seconds then looked up at me. "She left when I was two. Then she came back when I was eight, begging my dad to take her back. Apparently things didn't go well for her wherever it was she'd run off to and she was desperate. I knew she was just using him but he didn't care cause he was too blinded by love or whatever." She shrugged again. "Well anyway, she stayed around until I was about thirteen, then she ran off again. Last time I heard from her she was in Miami. But that was a long time ago …"


"Is that why you moved down here?" I asked carefully.


Valerie looked away. "No… not exactly. I mean, it had been my plan to find her when I turned eighteen. I vowed to move down here and track her down wherever she was and give her a piece of my mind." She paused for a moment and I was afraid she was going to cry. "I was really angry." She glanced over at me. "But then I got the scholarship with Miami and the job at the club and somewhere along the line I stopped caring. Or at least, I stopped trying to justify my screwed up existence with her absence. I mean, what would I even say to her if I found her? 'You suck. I hate you.'? What would that accomplish in the grand scheme of things? So I let it go."


I had the urge to get up and hug her but I was afraid to move. I know how much it hurt me to lose my father. I couldn't imagine how I would feel if he'd up and abandoned me instead. "Thanks for telling me," I said lamely, not knowing what else to say.


Her eyes softened as she smiled at me. "I'd tell you anything."


I smiled back at her, feeling flattered. She didn't strike me as the type to go around sharing personal anecdotes with people.


"Is there anything else you'd like me to clear up?" she asked, taking a sip of her Pepsi.


Well there was one more thing and as insignificant as it was, I couldn't help but wonder. "I was just curious as to why you were working that Thursday that we met."


Valerie laughed out loud. "Do you lie in bed and think about all these random things?"


Well, yeah. Didn't she? Probably not. "Random things just pop into my head." … as I'm lying in bed thinking about them.


"Well one of the waitresses quit that day and Dean called me in to help. That's why I was doubling as both waitress and bartender, but I think you asked about that on our walk that night."


I felt quite foolish, yes I did, but at least my curiosity was assuaged. For now. "So I guess it was Fate that we met." Since when did I start believing in Fate, I wondered.


She studied me silently and half-smiled. "Perhaps."


Starting to nod, I suddenly said, "Wait, I have one more question."


"Can I buy a vowel?"


I shook my head. "Wrong game show."


"Damn. Okay, shoot."


"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"


"Nope," she answered quickly.  "Are you done now?"


I nodded and finished off the remainder of my dinner. "That was the best meal I've had in a really long time," I told her. "Although, I'm rather fond of my junior bacon cheeseburgers."


"Thanks. I think." She snapped her fingers. "I keep forgetting to ask if you ever heard back about your audition?"


I shook my head sadly. "No. Guess I didn't get it." Then I shrugged. "That's alright though, cause there's a play coming up I want to audition for and being in the Baldwin Players would've taken away most of my free time."


"Well we wouldn't want that."


"Indeed not." I sat back in the chair and patted my stomach thoughtfully. "So what's for dessert?"


Valerie arched an eyebrow and smiled suggestively. "What would you like?"


I knew where she was going with that look, but I wasn't about to give her the satisfaction that easily. Not yet anyway. "I'd like some ice cream."


She blinked a few times, clearly caught off-guard. "I don't think I have any."


I stood up and reached for her hand. "Well then we'd better get some."




Somehow, dinner with Mathew and Jessica had turned into a high school reunion. I'd called Jessica Sunday morning to tell her that Valerie could make it and she informed me that she'd gotten us reservations for seven at Pepe Le Pew's. Well, no that doesn't sound right. But it was something French and expensive and had something to do with a Pepe that was hopefully not of the skunk variety. After much complaint on my part, however, plans changed and we agreed to meet at Chili's. No way was I dressing up for dinner. She'd gotten me in a dress only two weeks prior and my dress-up quota had been reached for the month. Besides, Jessica hated fancy restaurants. Had the honeymoon in Europe warped her fragile little mind?


By the time Valerie and I showed up it was 7:42 and I was surprised to find that the guest list had been extended. They'd pushed together a couple of tables to make room. Jessica and Mathew were seated next to each other. To the left of Mathew were Jade and some guy I didn't know. Across from them were Sarah (Mathew's thirteen year-old sister) and Roxanne.


Taking a seat across from Mathew and next to Sarah, I said, "Sorry we're late we were … um…" My mind went blank and I looked over at Valerie who was in the process of sitting next to me.


"Stuck in traffic," she supplied in a way that made it obvious that it was not in fact where we'd been.


I caught the blush the crept across my face in the mirror behind Mathew and Jessica and decided that I had to stop doing that. I'd been blushing too much lately. The madness had to stop. I cleared my throat. Then I proceeded to introduce Valerie to everyone and vice versa. When I came to the guy sitting next to Jade, I paused.


"Oh. This is Jeremy." Then she mouthed the words 'the bloke'.


For a moment I thought she'd said 'the blow' and I furrowed my eyebrows in silent question. Then comprehension dawned on me and I nodded. "Nice to meet you, Jeremy," I said politely.  I felt a tap on my right arm and turned to find Sarah looking up at me.


"Your friend is pretty," she said in an attempted near-whisper that failed in its attempt. "Is she from TV?"


Biting my lip to keep from laughing at the thought, I said, "No but she should be."


Sarah nodded. "If she colors her hair she can be like Xena. Jessica was like Xena but she cut her hair." She sent a disapproving glance in Jessica's direction.


I laughed and looked over at Valerie to find her grinning. "So did you guys order already?" I asked the general population of the table.


"What do we look like, barbarians?" Mathew asked. "We have some manners."


"They were making us wait until eight," Roxanne added from her spot beside Sarah.


"Well, then I'm glad we managed to get away from traffic just in time." I said this from behind the shielding comfort of the menu. I was scanning the rows of equally tempting food when I felt warm breath tickle my ear.


"Wanna share an order of Chicken Fajitas?" Valerie whispered.


I nodded. She could've asked me if I wanted to jump off a bridge after dinner and I would've still nodded in agreement. Obsession and infatuation at its worst  .. or best depending on how you looked at things.


Jessica spoke for the first time. "So, Valerie, Alix tells me you're an artist. What kind of art do you do?"


Good question. I'd never seen any of Valerie's work. I glanced over at her to see what she would say.


"Mostly charcoal portraits," Valerie replied. She glanced at me quickly. "Nude portraits."


Five pairs of eyes focused in my direction and I hid my face behind the menu again. Even if I said I'd never posed for her they would never believe me. I kicked Valerie's foot under the table. If her plan was to embarrass me, she was doing a good job.


Thankfully, the waiter chose that moment to make an appearance and I made a mental note to leave him an extra big tip just for showing up at the right time. Once our orders had been placed, random conversation broke out at the adjoining table.


Sarah was trying to explain to Roxanne that Pokémon was way overrated. I suspected that that thread of conversation could be traced back to something having to do with Alisha.  Across from them, Jade and Jeremy were saying something about the Backstreet Boys. I decided right then to maintain my attention focused far away from their conversations. Across from me, Jessica appeared to be silently studying Valerie while Mathew seemed focused on Sarah's conversation with Roxanne.


I was feeling very awkward. Here I was with my closest friends and I couldn't think of one thing to say to any of them. Valerie being there was making me feel self-conscious. Not to mean that I didn’t want her there. I just wasn't sure how to bridge the gap between her and my friends. Searching my mind for something to say that would spark some type of general topic of discussion, I finally came up with, "So are we doing anything after dinner?"


"Did you have something in mind?" Jessica asked me.


"Uh. No, I just thought we could all hang out later."


To my surprise, Valerie spoke up, "Maybe we can go bowling?" she suggested.


I looked over to see Jessica grin. "Yeah," she said, nodding, "we haven't done that in a while."


Mathew smiled. "It's a plan." He turned to the others and asked if they were up for a night of bowling. Nobody objected.


I let out a deep breath, thankful that my question had killed a few minutes of silence.


"Do you like Miami?" Mathew asked Valerie.


Valerie nodded. "It's a beautiful campus but I'm thinking of transferring next semester."


"Where to?" Jessica asked, leaning forward.


"I told Valerie that Baldwin had a great art program," I interjected.


"Everyone I've spoken to there seems very nice," Valerie added. "I just have to look into any potential scholarships so that I can attend full-time instead of part time."


"Leave it to me and you won't have to worry about that," Jessica said, taking a sip of her drink.


Valerie seemed disturbed by the comment and I glanced sharply in Jessica's direction. I knew what she meant by it, but it was so out of character that my face broke into a frown. It was true that with one phone call Jessica could have Valerie set up at Baldwin with all expenses paid and no financial worries whatsoever … but the way she'd said it almost sounded as if she were flaunting her power. First the expensive French restaurant, now this. What was going on with her? I glanced quickly at Jade and she was staring over at our side of the table. She caught my gaze and gave me a look that I took to mean "I told you so."


But I refused to believe it. Jessica high on mind-altering drugs or kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a pod or her being possessed by some evil spirit, that I would believe. That Jessica Heart was jealous of Valerie … well that was ridiculous.




"You're kind of quiet," I noted, speaking over the constant sounds of rolling balls and scattering pins. "We can leave if you want to."


We'd all met up at the bowling alley and broken up into teams. Jessica, Mathew, Valerie and myself comprised team one. Jade, Jeremy, Roxanne and Sarah made up team two. Thus far, team one was in the lead with … well I never did look at what the score was, but we had more of the red X's than the other team did and that's really all that mattered.


Valerie smiled at me and shook her head. "No, I don't want to leave," she assured me. "I like your friends."


Relieved, I smiled back.


Sarah walked over to us at that moment. Well, she headed toward Valerie, actually, but I was sitting next to her so I decided to include myself.  The thirteen year-old plopped herself beside my girlfriend and said, "Do you know karate?"


I'd always liked Sarah. Nina, Mathew's older sister was cool too but I'd never gotten much of a chance to get to know her. Sarah reminded me a lot of Mathew. They both had dark brown hair and green eyes, though Mathew's bordered more on hazel, where Sarah's were lighter.


"Yes I do," Valerie replied in a gentle voice which she reserved for me and I guessed women under 18 as well. Though hopefully not for the same reasons.


Sarah's face lit up at the confirmation. "Do you beat guys up?"


I hadn't been aware that Valerie knew martial arts. It made me wonder what else I didn't know about her. I turned away from their conversation for a moment to see who was up. Jade stepped up to the lane, sat down, placed the bowling ball on the wooden floor before her and let it roll. Somewhere along its merry way, it fell into one of the gutters and Jade stood up and started clapping happily. She was such an odd child.


I turned my attention back to Sarah and Valerie just in time to hear Sarah ask, "Do you and Alix have sex?"


"Val, you're up," Jade called walking past us.


Well she certainly dodged that bullet, I thought as Valerie excused herself as quickly as possible and headed off to retrieve her ball from among the others. I settled back to watch her, but was interrupted by a tap on my arm. Uh, oh.


Sarah was looking up at me expectantly. "So?"


So… right. "So, how's school?"


"It's good," she answered. "Do you not want to answer my question? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. But if you're doing it then you should at least be mature enough to admit it."


Was she calling me immature? I arched an eyebrow in her direction. "I am too, mature enough to admit it," I countered, feeling extremely immature for finding the need to justify my maturity to a thirteen year-old.


"So you admit it?"


Had I just been tricked? "Uh…" 


Valerie returned at that moment and said, "Your turn, Sarah."


Sarah smiled at me before getting up. "You're a dork, Alix."


"Thanks," I replied and watched her walk away for a second. Then I devoted my full-attention to Valerie. "How'd you do?"


"Another strike," Mathew answered for her, giving Valerie a high five.


I jumped up to hug her. I didn't really care about the strike but it seemed like a good excuse for physical contact. I grinned, stepping away from her. "At least I can beat you at pool."


She nodded and sat down. "And that's probably the only thing you'll ever beat me at," she replied teasingly.


Reclaiming my seat beside her, I said, "Don't be too sure. I'm also very good at air hockey."


"Oh yeah? I'll have to see that one of these days," Valerie told me, looking rather smug. "Are you good at basketball?"


I thought about it for a second. "I believe I managed to get the ball through the hoop once…but I'm not sure." Then I poked her in the ribs. "You never told me you knew Karate."


"You never asked," she said simply. "I know Tae Kwon Do, too. And I'm pretty good at fencing."


"Fencing? Is that where people wear those tight clothes with the ugly masks and jump back and forth trying to poke each other with wobbling swords?"


Valerie smirked. "Something like that."  She looked around for a moment, then grinned. "Looks like your friend Jade is getting along well with her date."


I followed her line of sight and cocked my head to the side. Jade and Jeremy were making out quite fervently. They needed to get a room and pronto. "Well, at least she's having fun."


"I'd say."  Then she nudged me with her foot and motioned with her head, letting me know that it was my turn to bowl.


Bowling, unfortunately, does not fall into the glorious list of activities that I do well. And frankly, the shoes don't help make the experience any more enjoyable. However, I must admit that the moment just before the bowling ball hits those pins is one of the most exciting things I've ever experienced. How pathetic am I?


There must be a method involved in throwing the ball just-so in order to achieve that perfect strike. But I wasn't going to find it and I had to accept that fact. So I made my way toward the edge of the lane, threw my arm back and swung it forward, letting the ball do its thing.


Its "thing" turned out to be rolling off to the far right side and hitting all of one pin before falling out of sight. Sadly, that was an improvement to the assortment of gutterballs I'd been throwing all evening. I grabbed another ball, ignoring the mock-clapping of my fellow companions, and went back to repeat the process. This time, the ball decided to visit the left hand side meanwhile missing all the pins in its allotted path.


Sitting back down beside Valerie, I received a pat on the head for my great performance. "Your evil mockery shall stop," I told her.


"Or what?" Valerie challenged.


"Or I'll call Sarah back over here and tell her to ask you embarrassing questions." That was probably the lamest threat in the history of threats, but it was the only thing I could come up with.


Valerie's eyebrow arched in response, then she proceeded to pat my head again.




Instead of enlisting Sarah's help, however, I decided to challenge my girlfriend to a game of Monopoly. I wasn't sure what the game was supposed to accomplish, but it seemed like a fair enough competition. Besides, there were interesting odds at stake. The winner got to have a wish granted by the loser. I wanted to win, but to be quite honest, I didn't particularly mind the idea of losing either.


We were sitting across from each other on Valerie's bed with the game spread out between us. A sleeping Loki rested beside me and every now and then I'd reach out to stroke her fur.


It was now close to one in the morning and I kept glancing at the clock willing time to stop turning. I had class in the morning and I couldn't miss it, but I couldn't bring myself to leave Valerie's company either.


As though reading my mind, Valerie said, "We can finish the game another day. I know you have school tomorrow."


"I'm not sure I trust you with the game," I replied, though it wasn't true. I knew she wouldn't cheat.


Soft blonde hair fell against her face as she laughed. "We can add everything up and see who has the most money," she suggested.


To this I agreed. Mostly because I really did have to get going or I'd never get up in time for class. I wasn't sure I'd make it as it was.


We spent the next few minutes adding up all the money and the values of all the properties along with the houses and hotels on each monopoly. I didn't have much hope of winning since Valerie had pretty much shattered my dreams by acquiring Boardwalk and Park Place early on in the game, but it didn’t hurt to check. As it happened, once everything had been methodically calculated and verified by both parties, it turned out that I did lose after all.


"Okay," I said, doing my best to appear like a mature woman capable of admitting defeat with minimal amounts of pouting. "What's your wish?"


Valerie was in the middle of putting the Monopoly money away and she looked up at me in confusion. "Huh? Oh…" She returned to the task of clearing the board without responding. I figured she was trying to come up with something to wish for, so I didn't press the question and instead started helping her put away the game pieces. Once the game had been neatly put away in its box, Valerie took a deep breath and said, "I would like you to pose for me."


I blinked.


"You don't have to do it," she followed quickly. "If it makes you uncomfortable. I mean, just cause I won in a board game doesn't mean you owe me anything. You don't have to do it," she said again, lowering her head in embarrassment.


"Are you blushing?" I asked in wonder, trying not to laugh, but unable to keep from grinning. I leaned forward to brush the hair from her face so that I could look at her better. "Your wish is my command," I whispered softly.


She raised her head at my words. "What?"


"Yep. I just have one condition."


"What's that?"


I grinned. "If you're gonna draw me in the nude, then you're gonna draw me in the nude."


Valerie arched an eyebrow, not understanding my meaning. Then she got it. She opened her mouth to reply but then shut it again, and frowned at me. "What if I let you wear a scarf?"


"Then you can wear a scarf," I replied, laughing.


"Damn." She started crawling toward me, forcing me to lie back. "You're not going to make things easy for me, are you?" she said, straddling me.


I put my hands behind my head as I lied back on the pillow and smiled up at her. "Never."


"What if I tickle you?"


I stared at her. "You wouldn't."


She would.


Chapter 18  


Somehow, I managed to get up for class Monday morning and even met Jade for our bi-weekly pre-World Literature breakfast. I was quite impressed with myself actually, seeing as I'd only gotten about three hours of sleep.


"You look like bloody hell," Jade informed me as she cut her bagel in half and took a big bite. Her hazel eyes darted around the student center as she chewed, then her gaze landed back on my face.


Instead of responding, I stared down at my own bagel and contemplated eating it. I wasn't sure I had enough energy to pick it up, let alone cut it and smear cream cheese on it. Perhaps it was a better idea just to sit there. Although, I was hungry. "Jade, would you cut my bagel and put cream cheese on it?"


"You're joking, right?"


Yawning, I mumbled, "I'm too tired to do it myself."


Jade shook her head and grabbed my bagel. "Well maybe if you hadn't spent all night doing the humpty dumpty with a certain someone, you wouldn't be quite so tired."


"We were playing Monopoly," I replied, a bit defensively.


Jade smirked and placed the now cream cheese covered bagel back on my tray. "Is that what they're calling it these days?"


"Hey, if I recall correctly it wasn't me getting all frisky at the bowling alley." I grabbed one half of the bagel and took a bite.


She grinned at that. "He's pretty cute, huh?"


"Um. Sure." I took a sip of orange juice. "What the hell was up with his sideburns? I kept wanting to call him Elvis all night."


Jade leaned over the table to flick me on the forehead.


"Ouch!" I cried, rubbing my now stinging flesh. "Jeez, Jade, can't you come up with a more painless method of expressing your disapproval? A dirty look will convey the same message."


"Yes, but it's not as fulfilling," Jade replied. "And anyway, he's a big fan of That 70's Show." She shrugged and picked up her bagel again. "I think the sideburns are cute."


I rolled my eyes. "Hey, before I forget, do you want to go to the mall with me after classes today?"


"What for?"


"I wanted to get Valerie something," I said. Then I paused. "Do you think that's too corny?"


Jade nodded.


"Hmm. Well, we could just go see what they have. Maybe buy a CD or something."


"Sure, whatever. Beats going home to deal with my aunt. Remember Hawaii?"


"Far too clearly."


She nodded, then proceeded. "Well now she thinks she's on a nudist colony on the South of France."


"Eww! Jade! Not while I'm eating."


"Hey, I'm the one that has to live there," she countered, shuddering. "I really need to move out of there."


"Why don't you?"


Jade shrugged, not looking at me. "I don't want to leave her alone there. I mean, she needs someone to take care of her and I don't want her getting put in an asylum or something. I know she's nuts, but she deserves better than that."


"You should really get her some help, though, Jade. It's only going to get worse otherwise."


She nodded, but said nothing.


Sensing we were getting into dangerous territory, I decided to change the subject. "So, what did you and Mr. 70's do after steaming up the bowling alley?"


"We played Monopoly," she said with a wink.


Laughing, I said, "And you called me a whore."


She wrinkled her nose. "It was the sideburns. I couldn't resist." She shrugged. "But he had the tiniest dick I've ever seen."


Her comment made me choke on the piece of bagel I'd just stuck in my mouth. I made a grab for the orange juice.


"You alright?" Jade asked after a second.


"Fine," I croaked, still coughing. When I managed to get the coughs under control, I asked, "So are you going out with him again?"


She nodded and said, "Of course. I mean, he's a nice guy. Plus, he seemed really at home with my lopsided boobs."


This time, I choked on the orange juice.




"Check it out, Al," Jade called. "Jessica's on the cover of People again."


I looked up from the issue of Strangers In Paradise I'd bought from the comic book store. We'd been at the mall for over an hour, and most of it had been spent at Walden Books waiting for Jade to decide what books to buy.


Jade held the front of the magazine so I could see.


Putting the comic book back in its bag, I quickly grabbed the People Magazine from Jade. The picture of Jessica was from the wedding. It was of Jessica and Mathew walking out of the church after the ceremony. "Yeah," I said, flipping to the part about Jessica in the magazine. "I remember them being at the wedding. Jessica let them take a few pictures."


"Is there an article?" Jade asked, walking behind me so she could look over my shoulder.


I nodded, finding the spot. "Four pages worth," I told her. "Are there any more magazines with her on there? I keep forgetting to check for these things."


"And as Jessica Heart's number one fan you must have everything, right?" Jade joked, looking through the different entertainment magazines for any more articles.


"Why yes! I buy all of the Heart Corporation products and I even got her autograph once!"


"Entertainment Weekly's got her too," Jade said, handing the magazine over.


I flipped through that issue and then shrieked when I saw that I'd made it into one of the pictures. Granted, I was way in the background, but it was still me. "With luck, a talent scout will spot my picture and go out to find me. This could be my big break. Someday, when they do me on Before They Were Stars, this picture will be among all the other embarrassing ones they manage to dig up of me."


Jade shook her head at me. "I still don't see why you don't use Jessica to land yourself on TV. She could set you up in two seconds."


"First of all, I do not use my friends. Secondly, Alix Morris is no cheater. And C, when Jay Leno interviews me one day and asks me how I got my first big break I would rather say that a talent scout spotted me on the background of a picture on Entertainment Weekly, than telling him that my very rich best friend made a few phone calls and hooked me up."


"Suit yourself," Jade responded, handing me a few more magazines with Jessica in them. "But when you turn 80 and realize that the highlight of your career was waitressing at a dinner theater, don't come crying to me."


"I appreciate your faith in me."


"No problem." Jade nodded to the other side of the bookstore. "Let's go look at the sci-fi section."


She started in that direction and I followed closely behind, carrying the stack of magazines. I was still trying to come up with something to buy Valerie. She seemed to like silver, so maybe I'd check out the jewelry store after we finished with Jade's reading materials. Valerie worked mornings on Mondays, so I was thinking I'd pick up some McDonald's and surprise her at her apartment. I nodded to myself, thinking that was a good idea. I was getting the hang of this relationship thing.


A hand touched my arm and I jumped, dropping all the magazines in the process. Then I looked up into a pair of apologetic brown eyes. "Sorry," Zack Woods said, kneeling down to pick up the items on the floor.


"Zack, you scared me," I said.


My ex-boyfriend smiled. "I noticed." He handed me back the magazines and stood up. "I always seem to run into you at bookstores."


"That may well be because you live at bookstores," I replied. I hadn't really talked to Zack in a long time. We'd been in a two-week relationship in tenth grade that ended abruptly when the news of my feelings for Jessica were made public. Needless to say, he hadn't taken it well. "I heard you've been playing babysitter to your niece."


Zack nodded. "Yeah. I love Alisha. I really wish Alex was around to see her grow up."


I bit my lip and looked down for a moment. For most of us, the subject of Alexander Woods had been filed into the 'Memories Too Painful to Talk About' folder. He'd been Zack's older brother, Roxanne's boyfriend, Alisha's father, and a very good friend. He died in a car accident a couple of years ago.


Zack ran a hand through his light brown hair, pushing it away from his eyes. It was a gesture he made whenever he was thinking of something to say.


Thankfully, Jade came to the rescue. "Hey, Zack," she greeted. "Do you know where the World of Darkness books are? They switched this bloody place all around."


"Hmm. World of Darkness?" Zack asked. "Role-Playing books, right?" He turned and pointed behind him. "I think they moved them over there, but I'm not sure."


Jade patted his shoulder as she darted off in that direction. "Thanks."


Zack cleared his throat and turned back to me. "I really like your haircut. I saw you with it at Jessica's wedding, but I didn't get a chance to comment on it."


"Thanks," I said. "It wasn't really my idea, but I guess it's alright."


"So I heard you were seeing someone."


"Ah, yes I sure am."


He nodded. "That's cool." He paused uncomfortably for a moment. "Well, I should be going. It was nice seeing you again, Alix."


"Nice seeing you too, Zack." I watched him walk a way, then went in search of Jade. I found her on the floor, staring at a row of books. "Find what you were looking for?" I asked, sitting down beside her.


"Yeah I did," Jade told me without looking away from her precious books. "How's Zack doing?"


"Fine, I figure."


Jade glanced at me and smiled. "I still find it funny that after he dumped you for having the hots for Jessica, he ended up hooking up with her cousin."


I shrugged. "They're still together so I guess they did a lot more than 'hook up'."


"Yeah what is it with those Heart women?" Jade asked, shaking her head. "They're gorgeous and yet they go for those nerdy type of guys."


"Unlike a certain fuzz-headed girl I know who has much better taste in men."


Jade turned so that she was facing me. "Yes, but I'm not gorgeous."


"Jade, you're beautiful."


Jade held up her hand to stop me. "Let me break it down for you. Jessica and Roxanne are the gorgeous should-be models. I am the eccentric foreign exchange student from England. You are the untapped resource."


"Excuse me?"


"Yeah, like if this were a teeny-bopper flick, you would be the chick who they make-over at the end and all the guys oooh and aaah at the incredible difference that a little make up and a dress can make. See, because underneath all those layers of baggy jeans and black Aerosmith tee shirts and there is this supermodel just dying to come out."


I had no idea what she was talking about. "Where are you going with this?"


Jade shrugged and turned back to the books she'd been looking at. "I'm not going anywhere with it. I'm just breaking it down for you. I was trying to explain why I can't be beautiful."


"How does my being an 'untapped resource' make you not beautiful?"


"It doesn't. My being an eccentric foreign exchange student from England makes me not beautiful."


I stared at her silently. "You are such a freak."


It took me about two hours to find the perfect gift for Valerie. I hadn't found anything at the mall that called to me. I mean, I didn't want to buy her something stupid just for the sake of buying her something. I wanted it to be special. Jade told me I was turning into a sentimental fool, but I didn't particularly care.


After the mall, I drove around Baldwin in no particular direction, dragging a complaining Jade along for the ride. Eventually, I parked in front of a store whose sign advertised movie memorabilia.


Jade headed off in search of alien stuff and I went up to the guy behind the counter and asked him if he had anything pertaining to the movie Labyrinth. He said he didn't have much except a poster, which turned out to be the same one Valerie already had in her room, and a ring. It was this ring that ended up being the perfect gift. It was silver, with an "L" engraved against the carving of a maze. The words 'Nothing is as it seems…' were engraved on the inside of the band. Those words should have given me a clue as to what was to come, but of course they meant nothing outside the context of the movie. Now when I look back on it, I see it as a sign.


As planned, I'd stopped by McDonald's and gotten us both dinner. I wasn't entirely sure what Valerie usually had at Mickey D's but I could give an educated guess. Then I headed off to her apartment, hoping that she was in.


When her apartment door opened, however, it wasn't Valerie standing in the doorway. It was a woman in her late twenties-early-thirties and she looked non-too-thrilled to be standing there. "Can I help you?" she asked impatiently.


For a moment I wondered if I'd knocked on the wrong apartment, but I could clearly see the 418 marked on the door. "Is Valerie in?" I asked, feeling stupid all of a sudden, and confused. And a mixture of a few other emotions that bordered on jealousy and nervousness and fear.


The woman rolled her eyes. "She's kind of busy at the moment."


Valerie stepped out of the bedroom at that moment, wearing a bathrobe and nothing more from what I could tell. When she saw me standing there she froze. "Alix."


I tightened my grip around the McDonald's bag so that I wouldn't drop it and somehow found my voice. "Uh. I was just delivering some food." I handed the bag over to the woman who now just looked confused. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything." I slowly backed away from the doorway and then started running down the hall. I don't know why I was running. Perhaps because I wanted to get away from the pain as quickly as possible and somehow I figured I could achieve it quicker by transporting my body to a different location. I didn't stop running until I reached the sidewalk outside the apartment building and felt Valerie's hand on my arm. I whirled around to face her, though I didn't want to.


"Please wait," Valerie said. She wasn't even out of breath. "It's not what you think."


I, on the other hand, was out of breath so it took me a moment to respond. "I'm having a lot of trouble believing that," I told her. "You're naked under that, aren't you?"


Valerie looked down at the robe she was wearing. "Yes. But—"


"And you're the artist, so don't give me an excuse that you were posing for a portrait."


"It's not—"


"And that wasn't Robin, so you can't tell me that she just showed up out of the blue to pick up some hair pin she left when—"


"ALIX!" Valerie yelled, cutting me off. "Listen to me."


I took a deep breath, trying desperately not to cry. Not yet. Not in front of her, in the middle of a sidewalk in downtown Ft Lauderdale. "I'm listening," I said evenly.


She paused, looking around. She ran a hand through her hair and chewed on her lower lip. Then she looked around again. "Fuck it all to hell," she muttered, more to herself than to me. Then she met my gaze. "I'm not … I'm not Valerie Skye."


Concluded (sort of)



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